Mercedes Moves Toward Electric

Talk about luxury — the Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 is built in Tuscaloosa, aiming for the worldwide luxury SUV market.

Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “Nothing endures but change.”

The German automaker Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) in Tuscaloosa County, and its parent company, Daimler AG, are moving forward with a host of changes for the decade to come.

Last November,, the Associated Press and other news organizations reported that Daimler planned to shed at least 10,000 jobs from it 300,000-worker pool worldwide by the end of 2022, including reducing management by 10 percent.

Daimler said the cost-cutting measure would save the company approximately $1.5 billion, freeing up its cash flow to implement its fully electric and hybrid vehicle programs. 

The automaker aims to offer at least one electrified vehicle in all segments by 2022. Daimler has already committed $1 billion at MBUSI toward the infrastructure needed for the plant to assemble electrified vehicles, also called the EQ SUV models. That investment is also supporting the construction of MBUSI’s new battery manufacturing plant in nearby Woodstock. That battery plant is slated to begin operations sometime between 2021 or 2022 and expand the plant’s logistic capabilities.

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“In November our production planning group celebrated installation of the first columns for the battery plant in Bibb County,” MBUSI spokesperson Felyicia Jerald says. There, team members will assemble batteries and plug-in batteries for the EQ brand. 

“The automotive industry is in the middle of the biggest transformation in history,” Daimler said in a statement in November. “The development toward CO2-neutral mobility requires large investments, which is why Daimler announced in the middle of November that it would launch a programme to increase competitiveness, innovation and investment strength.”

In addition to the battery plant, Jerald says the plant also will complete construction on its new $250 million Global Service Parts Warehouse in Woodstock in 2021. The new warehouse will contain all of the automaker’s vehicle service parts for dealerships and vehicle service centers across North America. The new warehouse will allow MBUSI to consolidate several area warehouses.

Another major development at MBUSI in 2019 occurred when its newly constructed Logistics Center in Bibb County opened last February. The Logistics Center supplies kits to Mercedes-Benz plants overseas. The kits contain the parts needed to assemble a vehicle.

Currently, MBUSI produces the GLE, the GLE Coupe and the GLS sport utility vehicles for a worldwide market and the C-Class sedan for North American customers.

But the new 2020 GLS, in particular, is the largest SUV in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. The vehicle provides enough space for up to seven passengers, and now, for the first time, the GLS offers a six-seat option with captain’s chairs. Moreover, its redesigned interior includes what is called the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) infotainment system, which comes with intelligent Voice Control and Natural Language Understanding with dual 12.3-inch digital displays that have touchscreen and augmented reality video for navigation.

Under the hood, the GLS has a 4.0-liter V-8 Biturbo engine with EQ Boost, the mild hybrid system that supplements the vehicle’s exhaust gas turbocharger. EQ Boost adds additional torque and horsepower while improving the vehicle’s fuel efficiency.

The MBUSI auto assembly plant that produces the GLS and the other SUVs first opened in 1997, becoming the first auto manufacturing plant in Alabama. Total investments made at MBUSI reached more than $6 billion by the end of its second decade in operation.

Meanwhile, more than 3,800 team members work at MBUSI. The auto manufacturing plant also supports more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs through its suppliers and service providers in the region, according to Daimler.

In 2019, MBUSI’s top management changed when Michael Göbel succeeded Jason Hoff as the plant’s president and CEO. Hoff took the job as head of quality management at Mercedes-Benz Worldwide. Göbel previously led Mercedes-Benz’s compact cars production. He also worked at the Vance plant back in 2008 as its head of planning.

Today, the plant has the capacity to manufacture approximately 300,000 units annually, but production totals for 2019 were unavailable at press time. Jerald says the company will release that information after its annual press conference in April. MBUSI exports approximately two thirds of the SUVs it produces in Alabama to customers around the world.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA), the Mercedes-Benz sales and marketing division in the United States, recently released December car sales figures, which stood at 30,294. That figure does not include Mercedes-Benz Vans produced outside of Alabama at 4,985, bringing the MBUSA total to 35,279 vehicles for December.

Year-to-date, MBUSA sold 316,094 Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles and 41,635 vans. The total year-to-date sales were 357,729 units, surpassing last year’s volume by one percent.

Mercedes-Benz volume leaders in December included the GLC, GLE and C-Class model lines. The GLC led the totals with 6,436 units sold, down from 7,294 in December 2018, followed by GLE at 5,787, up from 3,734 in 2018. The C-Class rounded out the top three with 3,412 units, down from 6,799 in December 2018.

Year-to-date, MBUSA sold 49,153 C-Class vehicles in 2019, down from 60,409 from the year before; 73,650 GLCs, up from 69,727 in 2018, and 49,980 GLEs, up from 46,010 in 2018. 

“Strong demand, combined with increased availability for many of our newest Mercedes models, including the A-Class, GLB, GLS and GLE, propelled us to a successful result in 2019,” MBUSA’s President and CEO Nicholas Speeks said in a statement. “With more new models to come and an energetic and ambitious dealer network providing first class service, we very much look forward to the new year.”

Gail Allyn Short is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham.

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